Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course - Maja Moldenhauer Interview
We sat down with Maja Moldenhaur from Cuphead's Studio MDHR and spoke about the game's secrets, Microsoft's support and what's next for them.
It’s been five years since Cuphead took the world by storm and a further three since we were promised The Delicious Last Course DLC.
A lot has happened in that time but we’re now on the precipice of the new content launching!
Ahead of that, we got to sit down for an interview with Maja Moldenhauer from Cuphead developers, Studio MDHR and we spoke about the game’s secrets, Microsoft’s support, and what’s next for the team.
It’s been almost five years since Cuphead was first released, it’s got its own TV, it’s appeared in Super Smash Bros, and it’s arguably the most recognisable indie title ever at this point, did you ever expect all of this?
No! We did not, we did not expect this. When we started on this, it was a very small scope, a very unique art style and we were like, if we get a thousand people who recognise these cartoons or played these hard-as-nails games, success and we can’t take it to our graves that we did it [sic]. Then it ballooned from there but none of it was forecast. It’s still wild and shocks us every day.
Did Microsoft’s early partnership with yourselves help with that?
That was probably the biggest milestone and differentiator for us between doing that very small scope versus, you know, ‘what if Microsoft is paying attention?’ The support they gave us in those years was formative.
We took it from this small little game to ‘let’s go big or go home’ – it could have never happened without that.
Now we’re two weeks away from the DLC, can you give us a brief overview of what development looked like? Given that it was initially slated for a 2020 release.
Timeline has never been a driver for us. Everybody laughs when we say that, they’re like ‘yeah, we know!’ For us, it’s about quality and staying true to what we want to do. At the end of the day, we want to say ‘whether it worked or didn’t work, we did what we intended to do and we’re happy with it.’
The DLC in itself is our biggest island yet, there are five super-sized bosses, with tons and tons more to discover, which we’re keeping under wraps. There’s the new playable character, who is built from the ground up and isn’t a reskin of Cuphead or Mugman.
We haven’t done a full inventory check of what our total frames are, but it will be comparable to the full base game. We wanted to push the boundary of what we’d done before, not rest on the laurels of that success. We wanted to give the fans something more.
Was there any point during development, when things got so big that you thought about pulling a Team Cherry and breaking the DLC out into its own game?
Yeah. That was a decision we made at the beginning when we mapped out what the scope was. It was pretty easy because it was all the things in the back of our minds that we didn’t get to put on paper.
In the beginning, when we put pencil to paper in early 2019, we really quickly realised that it’s the same genre and completes the story we started. Storyline-wise, it only made sense to be an extension of this game, so let’s put it as DLC and that will save a lot of headaches.
Did the delays allow you to add more content or was it a case of making sure everything was spot on?
It was all about quality. People are going to really notice a difference in the animation between the base game and the DLC. It’s not just the boss transformations but the location changes. There’s almost triple, quadruple the background count alone.
Frame-wise, there are a lot more layers of effects and puffs. So much more detail in the animation and enemies – players will definitely notice that.
Speaking of the enemies, what’s your favourite of the new bosses?
We’ve not shown it just yet, but it’s Esther Winchester. Her energy, the creativity of her transformations, and what her attacks are, plus her music.
Are there any run-and-gun stages?
There are none in the DLC. We wanted to experiment with different ways of getting the coins to buy the upgrades in the shop. I think how we’ve done it turned out brilliantly. That’s one of the additional things where we’re like ‘Just wait and see,’ it’s fun!
What’s the biggest learning you took from the base game into the DLC?
One of the things that we’ll struggle with continuously is putting a line in the sand and calling it. We just want to continue adding layers and more. Furthering and pushing the boundaries of things.
Other than that, the process was the same. We streamlined by concepting early on, rather than alongside the animation, as there was a lot of wasted time there.
Was anything cut from the base game that we’ll see in the Delicious Last Course?
Nothing that was on the cutting room floor. It was just in the back of our minds. Getting Miss Chalice as a playable character was a big one.
We did not have the timeline and budget, so we just added her as a legendary chalice in the core game, so bringing her to life was really important. That was one thing through the development of the core game where we were like ‘aww, we wish we could do that.’
What makes Miss Chalice so special?
I prefer playing as her, I think they all have complementary skill sets. I use parrying as an example. So, if you’re not great with timing your double jump to parry things, she’s an automatic parry with her dash. I really like that.
It was a different way to play the game – maybe it’s the novelty of it. You can also play the core game with Miss Chalice, allowing you to experience the game in a different way. You don’t even have to beat the core game to play the DLC, you just have to beat one mausoleum.
You’ve alluded to lots of mystery and secrets, is there anything you can give away before?
It’s strictly under lock and key. One of our favourite things is easter eggs. We plant a lot of easter eggs in terms of homages and things to discover. It’s one of our favourite things. We love looking online to see how people discover them.
I will say, from the core game, there are still some things that have never been discovered and we love that.
What’s next for you, now we’re at the finish line. Do you have other projects that you’re working on?
We do, but they’ve not been announced yet. We’re not going anywhere – we love 2D animation, we love pencil to paper and that, for the foreseeable future, we’re gonna continue with.
Is that with Cuphead?
You’ll have to wait and see.